cover image Teaching Will: What Shakespeare and 10 Kids Gave Me That Hollywood Couldn’t

Teaching Will: What Shakespeare and 10 Kids Gave Me That Hollywood Couldn’t

Mel Ryane. Familius, $16.95 trade paper (216p) ISBN 978-1-939629-23-4

A Canadian-born actress, now based in L.A., finds unexpected delights in guiding a group of motley elementary schoolers through a performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. Having transitioned in her career somewhat bitterly from stage acting to coaching actors for auditions, Ryane responded gallantly to a plea by her local California public school, largely Hispanic and poor, for programming help: her after-school Shakespeare Club attracted a dozen or so curious kids (several quit along the way), mostly girls, some more rambunctious than others, but all eager for a new experience even if they had never seen a play in their life. Mesmerized by the strange wonders of the Elizabethan era and the powerful effects of the stage, for example, being able to enact emotions that are censured in real life like anger and revenge, the children absorbed the difficult language, and even excelled. Using plenty of incentives like parties and hugs, Ryane had to negotiate the delicate business of unstable home lives; the children’s penchant for potty humor, rendering a character called Bottom screechingly funny; and the fine art of casting. In her lively memoir reaching back to moments in her own acting career, Ryane manages both to be funny and not take herself too seriously, though the respect she instilled in the children is remarkable: respect for her direction, for each other, and for the genius of Shakespeare. (Aug.)